- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Nov. 4

Monterey County Herald: Low turnout, big money

The election year of 2014 will go down in history as one of the ugliest election seasons ever - with low voter turnout and a huge increase in campaign spending.

Those two elements are the perfect brew for the dominating influence of special interests on our electoral system. The fewer voters to that turn out, the bigger the influence of special interests.

In a presidential election, voters’ interest is high, and it’s harder for the special interests to exert their power. But the lower the turnout, the more influence these special interests have.

And 2014 will go down as one of the most expensive off-year elections in history, at least judging from national elections for the Senate, the House of Representatives and gubernatorial races.

Here in California, turnout was estimated to be low in particular because the gubernatorial race was so out of balance. As expected, Gov. Jerry Brown coasted to an easy win over Republican Neel Kashkari. It was a race that was over before it began, and California’s voters had just one more reason not to go to the polls.

Brown didn’t even bother to campaign much, choosing instead to spend his campaign war chest on Propositions 1 and 2, rather than on his own re-election.

Nationwide, however, the situation couldn’t have been more different. The New Yorker magazine went so far as to dub this year’s election as “the money midterms,” with an estimated $4 billion being spent on congressional campaigns.

A low turnout - typical of off-year elections - increases the role of the politically active, both the hard-core supporters of each party and of the big-spending Super PACs and other interest groups that can raise incredible amounts of money.

The monetary influence is bad enough on its own, but it also has a devastating impact on the ability of elected officials to effectively represent their constituents. Instead of working away in the interest of the people, elected officials are put in the position of spending huge amounts of time hustling for campaign dollars. Even those in politically safe districts are forced to seek out donations in order to contribute to other members of their party.

That puts the officials in the position of pandering to special interests, the big-money contributors that are keeping a watchful eye on their voting patterns. There’s so much money coming in that lobbyists can threaten an official with the threat of withholding future financial support - which is much-needed in a race wth a low voter turnout.

Unfortunately, there are no easy answers. Establishing limits on campaign contributions is famously ineffective, because there are so many ways to get around the law. Encouraging a higher voter turnout can help, but the irony is that the more special interests control the system, the less motivation the average voter has to participate in the electoral process.

Congress has an estimated 7 percent approval rating, and fewer than 30 percent of voters say they have any enthusiasm about voting, according to recent polls.

One would think that those numbers would result in a massive effort to reject the status quo. So far, that has not happened. But at some point, we’d like to think that the citizenry would take back the electoral system and reject the cynical money-dominated system that exists now.


Oct. 30

Contra Costa Times: For the Giants, it’s time to talk dynasty

Faithful Giants fans know that beginning with Opening Day on March 31, the hallmark of the 2014 San Francisco Giants season has been simply one thing: Expect the unexpected.

So what makes you think Game 7 of the World Series would have been any different?

Since 1979, the World Series has gone to a Game 7 nine times. Nine times the home team has won. Until Wednesday night, when the San Francisco Giants grinded out a 3-2 victory over the gritty Kansas City Royals. But we all know you can’t understate the performance of Madison Baumgarner, one that will live for many years to come.

We need to take a moment and pause in awe of this 25-year-old left-hander. How can anyone with two days rest come out in front of a hostile crowd and completely shut the door over five innings in the clinching game of the World Series? Pitch counts were meaningless to Baumgarner. He dominated the Royals no matter the circumstance. It was simply legendary.

When he was done, the Giants had won three World Series championships in the last five years. But let’s not forget about the road to the 2014 title. Do you recall that the notion of even making it to the World Series, let alone winning it, was up in the air for most of the season?

The 2014 Giants season will be remembered as one of the most maddening years since the team moved here in 1958.

The Giants were the best team in baseball in April and May. But then came a June swoon that tested fans mightily. On June 8, the Giants were flying along with a 42-21 record and a 9 1/2-game lead over their hated rivals, the free-spending Los Angeles Dodgers. By the time of the All-Star Game in July, that lead had vanished, and over the next month they had the worst record in baseball, 10-22. Making the playoffs was even a stretch at that point.

That looked even less likely when they made no significant moves before the trade deadline. They acquired struggling Red Sox pitcher Jake Peavy, who was a pathetic 1-8 with Boston, and called up untested rookies Joe Panik, Andrew Susac and Matt Duffy as re-enforcements.

By September, a rejuvenated Peavy and the rookies’ energy-infusion reignited San Francisco players and fans, renewing hope that if the team got to the playoffs, it could make things interesting.

Indeed. The Giants beat the Pirates on the road in the wild card game and then disposed of the favored Washington Nationals and St. Louis Cardinals in convincing fashion to reach the World Series.

Now the Giants are World Series champs again. Let the talk of a dynasty begin.


Nov. 1

Lodi News-Sentinel: Dia de los Campesinos organizers deserve thanks

By all accounts, Dia de los Campesinos, or Farmworkers’ Day, at Hale Park on Oct. 26 was a success, bringing together families for fun activities and access to health and community programs.

Farmworkers and their families deserve such recognition - and resources. After all, as Maria Rosado, regional manager of California Human Development, pointed out, “They feed the world.”

The event included food, ranchera music and traditional songs from Mexico, and a performance by charros, traditionally dressed horsemen.

Health Plan of San Joaquin offered blood pressure and diabetes checks, and employees of American Medical Response taught families how to perform basic CPR.

Joaquin Hernandez was named Farmworker of the Year by California Human Development, reflecting his work to establish a community garden. The proposal is moving forward and will allow residents to lease sections of a garden at the corner of Washington and Pine streets for $5 per year.

Hernandez suggested other events in the future to make the Eastside safer and healthier for families. He’s juggling community involvement with his job as a farmworker, and issued a challenge to others, reminding all of us that we can do more than just sit around and watch TV.

Maybe Hernandez has issued a clarion call to action.

Perhaps last Sunday’s success can lead to more progress in coming months. Surely better health for farmworkers and their families is a worthy priority, as is making the Eastside safer for families generally.

A hearty thanks to the organizers of this event - and a thank you to the workers and their families in Lodi and beyond who truly do feed the world.


Nov. 5

Las Angeles Daily News: California electorate tells Democrats they aren’t so super

The Democrats’ two-thirds supermajority in the state Legislature is in jeopardy, though they’re a long way from losing their majority. Meanwhile, several statewide races were closer than last time, and closer than the Democrats’ big edge in voter registration would suggest; but still, Gov. Jerry Brown’s easy re-election to a fourth term led another Democratic sweep of the major state offices.

If the supermajority is gone, and with it the Democrats’ ability to pass new taxes and override Brown vetoes without help from the GOP, the majority will have to acknowledge the minority a little more.

On a day when voters in other key states registered disappointment with President Obama by turning control of the U.S. Senate over to Republicans, perhaps Californians made a statement of their own to Democrats: Enough of your reluctance to oppose Brown over his unaffordable bullet-train project. Enough of your refusal to stand up to unions and modernize the California Environmental Quality Act for the good of the economy and the environment. Enough of the corruption in the state Senate.

California’s small Republican wave probably didn’t feel small to the Democratic incumbents who were unseated by GOP challengers, including several in Southern California: 66th District Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi, D-Torrance, beaten by David Hadley; 36th District Assemblyman Steve Fox, D-Palmdale, knocked off by Tom Lackey; and 65th District Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva, D-Fullerton, routed by Young Kim.

By our count this morning, Republicans won four California Assembly seats currently held by Democrats, while Democrats picked up one. That would leave Democrats with 53 of the 80 Assembly districts, two below the two-thirds threshold.

The Assembly election shocker is Raul Bocanegra, D-Arleta, co-author of the film-TV production incentives bill, trailing little-known fellow Democrat Patty Lopez (by less than 200 votes).

The party math is murkier in the state Senate, because of the lingering scandals engulfing three Democratic members, but Democrats’ hope for regaining the supermajority in the upper house was set back by Republican Janet Nguyen’s trouncing of Democrat Jose Solorio for the 34th District seat currently held by Democrat Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana.

Republicans appear to have made a net gain of one seat in the California congressional delegation, which would trim Democrats’ lead to 37-16. Democrats took one back when Pete Aguilar beat Republican Paul Chabot for the 31st District seat of retiring Rep. Gary Miller, R-Rancho Cucamonga. And Democrat Rep. Julia Brownley, D-Thousand Oaks, may have fended off a strong challenge from Assemblyman Jeff Gorell, R-Camarillo; her lead this morning was only 530 votes.

It all adds up to a slightly different partisan landscape for California. Republicans should be heartened, and perhaps will find enough qualified candidates to make more substantial gains in the next elections. Democrats should heed the warning from the electorate that their days of dominance are numbered.


Nov. 4

Orange County Register: Two years of gridlock or productivity?

Before the clock struck midnight Tuesday in the nation’s capital, it was clear to even the most hopeful Democrats that Republicans had succeeded in wresting away control of the U.S. Senate.

But even before the very first vote was cast in the 2014 midterm election, one thing was certain - that, regardless of the outcome, there would be two more years of divided government in Washington.

That rather obvious political reality for some reason caused great anguish on Election Day among many of our colleagues in the Fourth Estate, who apparently were chastened by the prospect of GOP control of both houses of Congress.

“A new Do-Nothing Congress,” a Bloomberg headline sniped. “Many holding their noses as they cast ballots,” the Associated Press sneered. “Get ready for more gridlock and dysfunction,” the Washington Post warned.

Well it is quite possible that the new Congress over the next two years will achieve little or nothing of consequence; that it will be viewed as unfavorably (if not moreso) than the current Congress; that the next session will prove just as gridlocked as the session that preceded it.

Or maybe not. Maybe a Republican-controlled Congress will prove productive. Maybe divided government can yield bipartisan cooperation unforeseen on election day by our friends at Bloomberg, AP and the Post.

Indeed, it is hardly the first time a president of one party has faced a Congress in which either the Senate or House or both, as appears to be the case in the wake of this year’s midterm election, were controlled by the opposition party.

In fact, every second-term president from Dwight Eisenhower to Barack Obama has been faced with a divided government. And, in at least two noteworthy cases, the president and Congress have risen above gridlock and dysfunction to record historic achievements.

In 1960, for instance, President Eisenhower balanced the federal budget with Democrats controlling both chambers in Congress, and by large majorities, at that.

More recently, President Bill Clinton signed into law both a federal balanced budget and welfare reform, legislation passed with Republicans in power on Capitol Hill.

That history lesson should be instructive to Mr. Obama, who enjoyed one-party government during his first two years in the White House, and now finds the legislative branch in the hands of House Speaker John Boehner and presumptive Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

The president is not going to be able to get the Boehner-McConnell Congress to rubber-stamp his agenda, as Democrats did when they controlled both houses of Congress; when they passed both the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 with next to no Republican support.

But that doesn’t mean that the Democratic president can’t do any business whatsoever with the loyal opposition.

Indeed, if Mr. Clinton was able to reach agreements with Republicans on both the balanced budget and welfare reform, we think it no less possible that Mr. Obama can get to yes with the GOP on such issues as energy security, free trade, deficit reduction, even immigration reform.

The biggest obstacle to such bipartisan community is Mr. Obama’s propensity during his second term to misuse his executive authority to bypass the loyal opposition in Congress.

If he continues that practice during the final two years of his presidency, we will indeed see a continuation of the gridlock and dysfunction that marked the first two years of his second term.

Our hope is that President Obama will bend toward statesmanship, rather than confrontation, in the wake of his party’s dispiriting defeat in Tuesday’s midterm election.

And that the newly empowered Republicans on Capitol Hill will be guided by the better angels of their nature.


Nov. 4

Torrance Daily Breeze: Private firms not the problem in High Desert rocket crash

After the High Desert rocket crash last week, critics are citing Virgin Galactic’s being a private company as key to the incident.

But without private enterprise, there would be no legacy of American space flight. NASA, a federal agency, was the overarching entity that got us to the moon; private companies built all the components. The contractors for the Saturn V, the rocket big enough for Apollo missions, were Boeing, North American Aviation and Douglas Aircraft, right here in Long Beach. Rocketdyne, right here in Canoga Park, supplied the lead engines for the Saturn rocket. Aerojet, right here in Azusa, built the first rockets ever to reach outer space.

To begin at the very beginning, it’s also been said that without science fiction there would be no human space flight. Stories from Jules Verne to Flash Gordon fired the souls of early rocketeers.

And for some reason best explored by a lengthy literary doctoral thesis, many of the mid-century sci-fi greats were as passionate about their rebellious anti-government politics as they were about exploring the rings of Saturn.

Robert Heinlein, author of the iconic “Stranger in a Strange Land,” made his libertarianism plain in his novels. “Every law that was ever written opened up a new way to graft,” a character said in “Red Planet” from 1949. Novelist Poul Anderson got awards from something called the Libertarian Futurist Society. Philip K. Dick’s “The Man in the High Castle” is a fine indictment of fascism, imperialism and bad government in general in a post-war America ruled by the Nazis and Japanese. These free-market texts were very influential on the engineers and scientists who won the space race.

The question being asked in the wake of last week’s fatal crash in the High Desert of a rocket ship being tested by Virgin - “Should private companies really be allowed to send people into space?” - is in every way a false one.

It is only because of private companies that any American ever got into space in the first place. Private industry is inextricably tied up in rocketry. Anyone considering signing up for a trip into space with Virgin Galactic should not be given pause by the fact that the engineering is private rather than public.

Space flight is inherently dangerous, just as all flight was in the decades after the Wright brothers first took off. Orville Wright himself was at the stick when his Wright Flyer III crashed in 1908, killing his only passenger in the first airplane fatality. Now, commercial aviation is by far the safest method of transportation, but it took a lot of learning, both technically and through safety regulations.

The place where civilian space flight needs more scrutiny from the public sector is in safety oversight, the kind that NASA provided for astronauts, if imperfectly. Though pilot error may turn out to be the cause of last week’s crash, experimental fuels that were used - including a form of nylon and highly volatile nitrous oxide - are controversial among spaceflight engineers. The Los Angeles Times reports that last year Virgin Galactic’s safety chief resigned and has not been replaced. The Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board, which is investigating the crash, need to insist on a commitment to safe flying. But private firms as such are not the problem. With safeguards, they will soon take a lucky few for a thrilling trip into space.

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